Sunday 12 July 2009

The Dumarest Saga by E.C. Tubb

The Dumarest Saga is the greatest Dodecaquadraphenicadon ever written, or whatever the correct term is for a 33 volume series. Up until a few days ago, top of my list of books I haven't got but I would like to have was Volume 32 of the Dumarest saga. My attempt to get a copy is a saga in itself.

I first came across Earl Dumarest in the 1970s when about a dozen books of this sci-fi series had been published. I avidly read all the series and then the new books, and everything was going well until the series hit book 31 towards the end of the 1980s. Then suddenly the books stopped appearing and I had no idea why.

Years later the Internet provided me with the answer of what had happened. Simply, the publisher stopped printing the books so the author stopped writing them. The final book #32: Return to Terra did get published in France though. So, like many others, I've bid plenty of times on eBay for one of the rare copies, but to no avail. Now amazingly I've just found out that after over a decade of silence the venerable author has written a new final limited-edition book #33: Child of Earth. Again it is commanding high prices on eBay.

So why does this sf series have such great appeal? Well, Earl Dumarest is the hero, and what a hero he is. He's as hard as nails, has a way with the ladies, and he's a man with a purpose. You see, in the far-future, he's the only person who still believes in the mystical home world on which he was born called earth. He will not rest until he finds his way back there, even if he has to visit every planet in the galaxy - or at least 33 of them.

In all the books there is just the one plot. And it's a good one and goes something like this: Dumarest is hanging around a space bar, down on his luck and with no money. He's spent his last cents on a berth out of his last port of call and now he's holed up in the seedy part of a space-port.

Here, with no other options, he fights until first blood is drawn in a gladiatorial knife fight to earn enough money for a passage to another planet. He wins, having had to kill his opponent after an illegal move was used. While nursing his wounds, a woman in a slinky costume with a thing for fighters offers him some personal grooming. Dumarest is quick on the uptake and realizes this is just a euphemism, but he is a man alone. He doesn't get involved with girls, even alluring, half-dressed and begging for it ones, so he declines.

Then he notices that the necklace the woman is wearing has 'Property of Earth' stamped in big letters across the middle. He puts the clues together and deduces this might help him find the location of earth. Cue flashback to his birth and childhood on earth plus a run through of the few clues he's picked up in previous books.

Dumarest realizes he must get to know this woman, but having spurned her unsubtle advances, he's in a quandary. Luckily, she really does only what him for his big muscles. You see, she owns a mining company and someone is secretly ripping her off. She wants a hunky man to sort it out. Dumarest strikes a bargain: he'll sort out her problems if she'll let him have the necklace and all the information about it. She agrees.

Dumarest visits some exotic worlds, gets in some fights, shows the woman a good time, and generally passes the time fruitfully. Finally there's a showdown with the bad guys after which Dumarest is the only one left standing. Then the woman, who he now loves deeply like no woman he's ever met before, well, since the last book anyway, dies in his arms saying, 'If you want to find earth go to... urghhhhh.'

There the story ends. Dumarest has a useless necklace, enough money for transport on the next ship out of the quadrant, and a vague sense of purpose to find someone called urgh.

Occasionally there are variations to this story. Sometimes he gets into a gladiator fight at the end of the book, sometimes in the middle. Sometimes the woman he falls for is blonde and sometimes in the really experimental books she's a brunette.

That's about it: brainless adventure, but not brain-numbing. These books are high quality pulp, always fast-paced with no time for pondering the meaning of existence. Within its own set limitations, it creates a whole civilization, a future barbarian society in which everyone acts for their own base needs and nobody ever devotes their time to bettering the world. This is great adventure stuff and the best of its type. And now the quest for books 32 and 33 can begin in earnest...!


Anonymous said...

I love "... a vague sense of purpose to find someone called "Urgh"!

Maybe it's that I'm not that much into sci-fi, but does this story owe something to Flash Gordon? I remember watching that. Or is it just a handsome hero in Outer Space that reminds me of Flash Gordon and there the similarity ends.

John Maddox Roberts said...

I'm John Maddox Roberts, a SF and mystery writer. I discovered the Dumarest stories in 1969, when I was in the Army. The first I read was "Toyman" and it was love at first read. Dumarest is the space adventurer we all fantasize ourselves to be: a loner who has only his wits and a knife in his boot and needs nothing else. The stories date from the mid-60s but they are in the tradition of 50s pulp: It is a universe where people get around in spaceships but otherwise everything is pretty much as it was in the 50s.

After leaving the Army, I saw the 1953 French movie "The Wages of Fear," directed by Clouzot. It was a postwar existential thriller and I saw immediately that this was where Tubb found the plot that he used in many of the Dumarest stories. In the film, a number of motley specimens of human flotsam wash up in the wake of WWII in a tiny town in a nameless South American country. The place is isolated and the only way out is by plane. The town is surrounded by desert and many of the inhabitants are undocumented. There is no work and no way to earn a ticket out. Into this situation comes a local oil company. It needs four men to drive two trucks of nitroglycerin into the mountains where it is needed to put out an oil well fire. The pay is enough for a ticket out plus a bit more. Four men are desperate enough to chance it. This film was remade in the 80s as "Sorceror," directed by William Friedekin.

The Dumarest series went on for too long, but it's still one of my guilty pleasures. Dumarest is a splendid character and the stories make you wish you could live in his world, which only the best SF can do.

I.J. Parnham said...

Thanks for comments, Anon and John. The connection with Wages of Fear is one that had never occurred to me, but it's a fascinating one.

Anonymous said...

I love both the Dumarest books and the film "Wages of Fear". (I had no idea about the remake, I will have the search that out...). Regarding Dumarest, at their best (about 40% of the overall number), the Dumarest books have some really sharp writing and character observation, genuinely evocative descriptive material (agree on the bleak 50's-era English post-war-type backgrounds), and there are some completely brilliant "get of out that" solutions. They have been on my shelf since I was a teenager and are one of the relatively few things from that age I never ever wanted to chuck out later!! They are not high literature but equally they are very underrated. I don't agree the series went on too long, as imo the 40% proportion of strong books is pretty much the same - maybe even slightly higher - at the end as at the start. And by the way: also love the SPQR series :-)

Nik Morton said...

Those were the days. I read books 1-9 and have yet to read 10-20 which are still on my shelves. I liked Tubb's writing style and the characters but decided to stop collecting them after #20. I have too many unread books as it is!

Anonymous said...

It funny how something from 40 years ago can just jump and suddenly consume and totally redirect what you where doing. Have any of you heard of Graphic Audio, A movie in your Mind. It a company that is taking older books and turning them in audiobooks with complete sound effects and action, Old time Radio style drama for your iPod. I recent wandered into books by Jerry Ahern who wrote a series called "The Survivalist" In this book Ahern goes in a litany of weapons detail to the point that when recently present with a AR-15 to target practice with I knew how to release the safety and cock the thing, unreal. Back on track I was looking at one of the knives that the main character used a A. G. Russell Sting 1A and all of a sudden Ith name Earl Durmarest surfaced and lead me here. Now I have to find the size of the bade cause it's was always described, was 8 or 11 inches, bigger that normal but still went into his boot. All my copies from then are scattered. I hate to hear that the last two are such a challenge, the last 7 of "The Survivalist" are that way and demand high prices. I was thinking that Dumarest of Terra would be just their type of series to do. May be if more than one person mentions it......

John Maddox Roberts said...

In "Toyman" Dumarest has a 10inch knife. In all the later books, it is describes as 9 inches, sometimes slightly curved and double edged.

Craig said...

I relate very much to the saga of finding the later volumes of Tubb. Like the other commentators I am a huge fan of this character - I recently had an interview published with Tubb in Dark Horizons and my final question was a tentative question about another Dumarest novel. The answer which amazed me was @I Hope so.@ Here's hoping.

Hussain said...

A dear cousin of mine introduced me to the Dumarest saga. He hunted high and low for the volumes and his one wish had been that I find the last volume.
Yes, the story itself is pure pulp, but it is one that really requires closure.
Does the hero find the lost shores where he can finally rest?
Does he?

Anonymous said...

I just learned today of the death of E.C. Tubb at the age of 90. He will be missed, but he had a good, long run.

I.J. Parnham said...

Sad news, anon, sad news.

Anonymous said...

For information I have had books 1-31 for years and looked for others in earnest. However recently found a website that purports to have 32 and 33.
their trial period is $1.49 and supposedly you can download them for free. You must unsubscribe however before the end of the trial period (1 day).
If anyone does it let me know by posting on here as I am too cynical to trust them in full!

Rob said...

It's nice to find that I wasn't the only sad person scanning the bookshops for 'E C Tubb' for so many years. Like others I have a complete collection apart from the last two.

However if you search on Amazon they're offering preorder for both books on Kindle, supposed to be available on Sept 29th.

John Maddox Roberts said...

Now I'll have to get a Kindle!

Anonymous said...

the pdf of "the rturn" is easy to find on torrents and emule

Doc Savage said...

Good books, much better than most of what gets praised as Literature. Ethical and moral questions and themes plus awesome action sequences and obsevrations on the nature of Man.

Ted Findhammer said...

I cannot remeber when I read the first of the series, or the title, but I was hooked.
Since I was 17,(65 years ago) I have been reading SF, very lucky to have found Arthur C. Clarke very early on, so I have always been able to distinguish between "good" SF and "crap"(excuse the expression) of which there is more and more these days.
To return to Dumarest: I hunted for his adventures wherever I was, and was so desperate
that I wrote to Mr Tubb himself. He not only answered, but sent me all the books that he
had on his shelf at the time. I have a few of his letters, and have managed to get all
33 books in the series. I only regret that he never explained the mystery of the Cyclan.
But I consider myself very lucky to have the complete series!

Ted Findhammer

Ted said...

Does anyone else have the complete series?

Tony. said...

Took a few years and more than a few quid but i got there in the end,the difference in writing between a young tubb and his later self was quite evident,still enjoyable though.

Ted said...

Hi Tony,
Are you and I the only ones? I wish someone would make it into a TV series,
like Stargate. Too difficult, I guess.